A delay in Kurdish separatist's case may jeopardise chances of joining the EU, but a hearing will be unpopular Opinion polls in Turkey regularly show that 70 per cent of Turks want to join the European Union but only 30 per cent think Europe will let them in. Following the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights last Thursday that Turkey's 1999 trial of Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan was neither independent nor impartial, it is a contradiction that risks becoming untenable. With a constitution that acknowledges the supremacy of international law, Turkey has little option but to call a retrial. Foot-dragging could jeopardise the government's chances of getting an accession date from Brussels in October. Explaining that to the Turkish people, though, will be far from easy. Ocalan was the country's No 1 enemy well before he was captured in 1999 and condemned to death for treason. Under pressure from the EU, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment three years later. An extreme left-winger who cut his teeth in the violent left-right clashes of the 1970s, Ocalan went on to lead the longest and perhaps bloodiest Kurdish rebellion in Turkish history. By the early 1990s, around 20,000 guerillas were fighting for his Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. Their 15-year war against the Turkish state cost 37,000 lives and an estimated US$15 billion. Hatred of the man who threatened to split the country runs deep in Turkey: the media routinely refers to Ocalan as 'the baby-killer'. Last summer two Kurdish politicians were put on trial for calling him 'Mr'. In an effort to avoid the death penalty, Ocalan called a ceasefire in 1999. But after five years of relative peace, the PKK are fighting again in the southeast of Turkey. Last week a senior army officer warned the group might be planning bomb attacks in western Turkish cities this summer. Little wonder the Turkish government responded to the European court decision by emphasising that its criticisms were merely procedural. 'Whether this dossier is reopened or not,' Prime Minister Recep Tayib Erdogan said, 'the matter [of Ocalan's guilt] is a closed one for the nation's conscience'. What makes the European court's Ocalan decision so sensitive in Turkey, though, is that many Turks have long interpreted EU insistence on broader Kurdish rights as tacit support for the PKK. As the army chief of staff Hilmi Ozkok put it last month, the PKK 'is dictating its demands in the guise of cultural rights with the EU acting as intermediary'. A week earlier, Mr Erdogan had accused 'elements in the west' of using the Kurdish issue to divide Turkey. Turkey's Eurosceptics have lost no time in turning the court decision to their advantage. The retrial of Ocalan 'means playing with Turkey's honour, inciting the people on an issue where Turkey is indisputably right', said the nationalist leader of the parliamentary opposition, Deniz Baykal. For the moment, all is quiet. But the Ocalan story is far from over. European Union politicians are expected to make a final political decision on the human rights court ruling in July. And Turkey's government must remove a law voted in 2003 specifically to make Ocalan's retrial impossible.